Thanks to Brexit, I've got 30 days to leave my home in France

When we applied for the right to remain in France after Britain leaves the EU, we received a letter telling us to leave in 30 days – even though we meet the legal requirements

Emma Lawrence
in France
Friday 19 April 2019 13:47
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Faisal Islam asking a pro-Brexit protester why he feels it is appropriate to call the Prime Minister a traitor

I have 30 days to leave my home thanks to Brexit.

Last week everything we’d been working for since we moved to France turned upside down. Two letters arrived from the French government: one for me, one for my partner. The letters were not unexpected as we were waiting for news on our visa application. What was unexpected was what the letters said.

In anticipation of life after Brexit, it has been strongly recommended that British people living in France apply for their “Carte de Sejour" residency permit. The French government has emphasised how important it is, as too has the British government, the newspapers, and all the many organisations that exist to offer advice and support to the two hundred thousand or so people that call this country their home. What hasn’t been quite so strongly explained, however, is the need to meet the income threshold set by the French government.

As current EU citizens, Brits are allowed to spend more than three months in France providing they meet the conditions for legal residence. These conditions dictate that you must either work, be self-employed, able to live self-sufficiently on your own resources or be in education. So far so good, until you factor in that France is one of the few European countries that stipulates a fixed amount which it regards as “sufficient resources”.

However, those “sufficient resources” vary according to your situation. And, depending on where in France you live, you can be held hostage to the decision makers at your local “prefecture” (the equivalent of a county council). Indeed part of the challenge that many Brits are facing is that French governance is devolved to the local areas and many of these prefectures have a reputation for acting independently and differently to each other.

The rules state that if you are single you must earn at least €559.74 a month, a figure that increases to €958.237 if you have a child. Likewise for couples, you must earn €839.62 as a household or €1007.55 if you have a child. Pensioners must have an income of €868.20 if they are single or €1,347.88 if they are in a couple. Rumour has it these figures will increase year-on-year.

Up until recently, France has rarely followed income checks on EU citizens and so many self-supporting British people have been happily living here, albeit surviving on less than what the France deems acceptable.

We have lived in France since September 2016. We moved here with our two children with dreams of buying our own home with some land, so we could grow our own food, learn the language, and – hopefully, in future – gain citizenship. We don’t earn a lot right now but have more than sufficient savings to live off while we build up our businesses. We pay our taxes, our children go to school here, we’re contributing to the system.

But that wasn’t enough for our local prefecture, which last week wrote to us to tell us that we had 30 days to leave the country. The reasons they gave is that there was no proof that James is self-supporting (we were not made aware of any missing information from our application – if we had we’d have provided it) and that my business does not make enough. Between us we need to prove that we have €1175.00 per month to live on.

The feeling of panic I got from the moment I opened those letters is still with me now. It sits in the pit of my stomach as a constant reminder of the nightmare we are now living.

We are determined to fight this every step of the way. The British Embassy has picked up our case and is talking to the French government on our behalf. We are confident that we do meet the rules and that actually this has been a mistake – a perfect storm of an incomplete dossier and a prefecture under pressure to process all the applications (as many as 30 a day in our area.)

The response to our case has been overwhelming. We’ve received countless messages of support and offers of help. There are the naysayers, of course, and people who have been quick to judge, but on the whole people are stunned by what has happened. Many, who have been burying their heads in the sand are now waking up to the reality of Brexit for Brits living abroad.

Our story has also encouraged others to share theirs and we know that we are not the only ones experiencing this situation. According to the Remain in France Together group, in 2017 some 3367 orders to leave France were issued to EU citizens because of failure to meet the legal residence conditions. It is unclear how many of those were British citizens but you can be sure that those numbers will rise as more Brits apply for their Carte de Sejours in anticipation of Brexit. This is in contrast to the UK government which has decided not to include means testing as a condition of applying for settled status.

We now have a very clear understanding of what is required and what is at stake. The lesson for us is that we can never take for granted our obligations to our host countries. Lucky for us we can challenge the decision, but others will not be so fortunate.

Life is about to get tougher for many UK citizens in the EU and vice versa. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone”

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